“Thanks for meeting with me, Katar,” Green Arrow said as the two teammates faced each other across the small table in the recreation room of the JLA Satellite. Green Arrow had a cup of coffee in front of him, while Hawkman had a cup of tea.
“No problem, Ollie,” Hawkman said. “But I admit I’m curious. Why did you ask me? I’d have thought Hal — he’s your best friend. You and I aren’t quite that close.”
“Yeah, well, this is just between you and I,” Green Arrow said, “but Hal isn’t exactly my first choice for relationship advice, capice?”
Hawkman stifled a grin. “I understand.”
“You and Shayera, you’ve got a great thing going,” Green Arrow continued. “I mean, sure, you’ve had your rocky spots; who hasn’t? But you’ve made it work. Frankly, I could use some advice in that area right about now.”
“I’m not sure I can help you,” Hawkman admitted. “Thanagarian social mores are vastly different from Terran ones.”
“That’s true enough,” Green Arrow agreed.
“Then again, Dinah and Shayera do have a lot in common. And, actually, you and I have a lot more in common than either of us would like to admit.”
Green Arrow blinked. “We do?”
“Certainly,” Hawkman said. “We both have very strong beliefs, passionate beliefs, even, and we’re always willing — perhaps a little too eager — to fight for the things we believe in. What causes the friction is, they’re not always the same things.”
Green Arrow chuckled at that. “I guess you’re right,” he said.
“Dinah is a strong-willed, independent woman,” Katar said. “She wants to be her own person, make her own decisions, not be someone else’s property. But she also wants to share herself with someone, be a part of that person’s life. The two aren’t mutually exclusive. On Thanagar, that’s usually a given.”
“On Earth, not so much,” Green Arrow said.
“Right,” Hawkman said. “You’re conditioned to the alpha male role of territorial lord. When you perceive another male invading your turf, your instinctive response is to protect what you see as yours.”
“Like a dog,” Green Arrow said, a little disgustedly.
“The analogy is sound,” Hawkman agreed. “And I understand it can be hard to change.”
“Nearly forty years of conditioning,” Green Arrow said. “Hard to unlearn.”
“Nothing worth doing is easy,” Hawkman said. “If you truly want to remain in Dinah’s life, you need to stop thinking of her as your girl. She wants to be a partner, not a prize.”
Green Arrow’s face split into a broad grin. “Buzzard-beak, I owe you one.”
Hawkman grinned as well. “I’ll put it on your tab.”
Shortly after, Green Arrow teleported back down to Star City. He materialized in the transporter tube atop the Star Tower. He was greeted by an unexpected sight. One of his own flare-arrows, glowing brilliant green, was stuck into the wooden doorjamb of the rooftop stairs. A piece of paper was pinned there by the arrow. Green Arrow quickly tore down the note and read it. He read it again and again. He read it five times through before he was able to take a breath.
GREEN ARROW, the note said, in block capitals. I CAN’T TAKE IT ANY MORE. I HAVE DECIDED TO LEAVE STAR CITY FOREVER. I’M GOING WITH CARDSHARK. DON’T TRY TO FIND US. YOU’LL NEVER SEE ME AGAIN. It was signed, simply, BLACK CANARY.
Black Canary tested the bonds holding her wrists behind her back for the fifteenth time. They held. The bonds holding her ankles together, likewise. She wasn’t going very far. She was seated atop a hard wooden packing crate in a darkened warehouse somewhere; she wasn’t sure where. She had woken up in this position sometime after Cardshark’s sudden gas attack had rendered her unconscious. The man himself was seated on another crate, his mask off to reveal a head of close-cropped blond hair, watching her, waiting for something. She had already tried her canary cry, but Cardshark had laughed it off and told her he was wearing protective earplugs.
“Mind telling me what we’re waiting for?” Canary asked.
“My boss,” Cardshark said simply.
“Someone hired you?” she asked.
“Yes,” he said, even more simply.
All right, so he wasn’t really the talkative type. Black Canary could tell that her JLA signal device had been removed; no chance of help from that area. Still, it was worth a bluff. “Green Arrow will find me,” she said defiantly.
Cardshark laughed shortly. “Not much chance of that,” he chuckled.
“What do you mean?” Canary asked.
“He thinks you went with me willingly,” he said. “Thinks we’ve run off together.”
“What?” Canary demanded. “But — but why would he think that?”
“The note I left for him,” Cardshark said. “Plus, you’ve been acting kind of silly around me, haven’t you? Like a lovestruck schoolgirl.”
Black Canary opened her mouth to protest, then closed it. It was true. She had felt giddy and romantic around Cardshark, and she hadn’t even known why.
“Believe me, it’s not my charm,” Cardshark said. “It’s a device built into my headpiece, a hypnotic device that made you feel that way.”
“Hypnosis?” Canary repeated, astonished. “But — where’d you get something like that?”
“From me,” a new voice said from the direction of the doorway into the warehouse. “A little technology I borrowed from an old associate of mine. It worked very well, didn’t it?”
Black Canary’s eyes grew wide when she saw the costumed man stride into the room. “You!” she gasped.
“Oh, how clichéd,” Clock King said. “I expected better dialogue. But yes, me — the Clock King. Oh, and don’t bother trying your sonic scream; like my employee, I am wearing special earplugs.”
“Everything worked perfectly, boss,” Cardshark said to Clock King.
“Thank you, Pat,” Clock King said. “Canary, let me introduce you to Pat Jeffords. I hired him to play the part of Star City’s newest super-hero, to sweep you off your feet. With the help of my borrowed technology, he succeeded admirably.”
“But why?” Canary demanded. “Why do that? What do you hope to gain?”
“Revenge!” Clock King spat. “Didn’t Green Arrow ever tell you the story of what he cost me? To amuse his lover? No? Well, then, I will. I became the Clock King because I thought I was dying, and I needed money to care for my invalid sister after my demise. The diagnosis was wrong, and I lived; but I was in prison, put there by Green Arrow, unable to see to my sister’s care. She died while I rotted in prison, and I swore I would have revenge! And now, I will have it. Because of Green Arrow, I lost someone precious to me. Now I have returned the favor, with interest.”
“Wasn’t it brilliant of Clock King, to let himself be the first criminal I captured?” Cardshark asked. “You never suspected him that way!”
“Green Arrow will never see you again,” Clock King ranted. “He will believe you deserted him, threw him over for a new lover. That thought will torture him to his grave! Where you will, of course, precede him. Out of necessity, my dear; nothing personal, I assure you.”
Black Canary only stared at him, a cold, hateful stare.
“Do we kill her now, Clock King?” Cardshark asked.
“Might as well,” the costumed criminal said. “No sense prolonging her agony.” He turned to his prisoner. “I truly am sorry about this, Black Canary. I mean you no harm. But one can’t make an omelet without breaking an egg, can one?”
Black Canary prepared to comment, but suddenly she heard a subtle whisper in the air, then felt the vibration of something striking the crate behind her, hard. She felt the ropes binding her wrists separate. A split-second later, her ankles were likewise freed, with the loud thunk of an arrow striking the floor.
“Green Arrow!” Clock King cried in terror. “He’s in here somewhere!”
“Look out, boss!” Cardshark cried as Black Canary leaped off the crate. Clock King screamed in terror as he saw the bottom of Canary’s high-heeled boot headed for his face plate.
Cardshark drew his special gun but dropped it with a yelp as it was pierced through by a green arrow. Sparks sizzled and flew as the interior mechanism of the gun was destroyed. Cardshark watched the gun hit the floor just as Canary’s kick sent Clock King sprawling across the warehouse floor.
Seeing the way the tide was turning, Cardshark turned and ran for the doorway. He stopped short when an arrow landed in the floor in front of him. He looked behind him and up in the direction the arrow had come from. In the shadows atop a high stack of crates he could just make out the shadowy form of Green Arrow. He had an arrow notched in his bow, the bowstring drawn. The tip of the arrow shone in the dim light as it aimed right at Cardshark.
“Freeze,” Green Arrow grumbled, “or name your beneficiary.”
Cardshark gaped in fear; slowly, he raised his hands above his head.
“Atta boy,” Green Arrow said, nodding.
“So how did you find me?” Black Canary asked as the police led the handcuffed villains away.
“Ahh, that note was as phony as a six-dollar bill,” Green Arrow said. “True, it gave me a heart palpitation at first. Then I looked at it more logically. For one thing, you would have written it out in your own handwriting, not block printing. For another, you would have called me Ollie, not Green Arrow. And lastly, you would have left it in our place, not on top of the Star Tower.”
“I see,” Canary said, her tone not indicating any emotional response to that.
“That made me figure the whole thing was a hoax,” Green Arrow went on. “And I asked myself, who would pull a stunt like that, trying to make me think you’d left me?”
“And you thought of Clock King?” Canary asked.
“Right,” Green Arrow said. “I called Raleigh and found out Tockman made bail. I got his current address from the bondsman, then trailed him here.”
“Good going, Ollie,” Canary said, noncommittally. She rubbed her wrist where the bonds had bit and looked away from him.
“Hey, what’s wrong?” Green Arrow asked. “We won, didn’t we? We stopped the bad guys.”
“I suppose,” Canary said. “Clock King said Cardshark used some kind of mind-control device on me, something he borrowed from an old friend of his.”
“That’s probably the Puppet Master,” Green Arrow mused. “They worked together once, years ago; maybe they kept in touch.”
“Maybe,” Canary said. “But Ollie, should it have worked on me that well? I mean, I fell pretty hard, didn’t I?”
“You were being mind-controlled,” Green Arrow said. “No shame in that.”
“Yeah. I guess,” Canary said, still not meeting Green Arrow’s eyes. The Ace Archer looked away, too, for he also had his doubts. He hadn’t been mind-controlled at all, and he reacted just as they had wanted him to — jealous, possessive, insecure.
There was something to what Katar had said, something he’d have to give a great deal of thought to.